OTHER VIEW: Armstrong: An example of humilityThe first man on the moon? You bet. And for that achievement, if humanity still is around in another 1,000 years, the late Neil Armstrong will be the one person from our era whose name without a doubt will be taught on Base Neptune to children in interplanetary school.
The first man on the moon? You bet. And for that achievement, if humanity still is around in another 1,000 years, the late Neil Armstrong will be the one person from our era whose name without a doubt will be taught on Base Neptune to children in interplanetary school.
But Armstrong had another landmark achievement. And it’s one that, to 21st century eyes at least, looks every bit as remarkable as the first.
The achievement is this:
In an age of Kardashians, in an era of reality TV and at a time when millions seek celebrity at any cost, Armstrong stayed modest and humble to the end.
He stepped out of the public eye. He never went on The Tonight Show, never made a book tour, never crossed the red carpet with the paparazzis’ bulbs popping.
He could have done all that and more. But he didn’t.
He actually resisted celebrity. And in the modern age, celebrity sings a siren song more tempting than any heard by Navy pilot Armstrong’s predecessors, the sailors of ancient Greece.
That song has lured countless people into the limelight. Every tabloid headline and E! TV Special Report shows what’s so often the result.
Armstrong could have featured prominently in many of those stories. Or, maybe he could have played the pop-culture game more successfully, avoiding scandal while living a life of flash.
But Armstrong made a conscious decision to avoid all that. Even more: He turned his back on it, refusing not only interviews but also appearances at most celebrations of the moon landing.
It was wrong to for one man to get credit for an achievement that resulted from the work of thousands, Armstrong felt.
So instead, he went home to Ohio, where he’d grown up. He taught engineering at the University of Cincinnati for some years. He bought a farm; he served on corporate boards and government committees. And that was about it. Wow.
Armstrong resembles another Midwesterner who could have had stardom but chose ordinary life: John Bradley. Who is John Bradley? Well, the fact that so few people today know his name shows that his effort of a lifetime succeeded.
Bradley was one of the six flag-raisers on Iwo Jima. “But Bradley only spoke to his wife once about the raising during their 47 year marriage. That was on their first date, and he seemed very uninterested with it during the conversation,” Wikipedia notes.
“Bradley refused to talk to reporters and avoided them at all costs. Throughout his life, the press would contact his home to ask for interviews, and he trained his wife and children to give excuses such as he ‘was on a fishing trip in Canada.’”
Why this reluctance to take advantage of fame?
“He told his children more than once that the only real heroes on Iwo Jima were those that did not survive,” as Wikipedia puts it (and “Flags of our Fathers,” a book by Bradley’s son, describes in more detail).
Courage inspires. Heroism inspires. But sometimes, modesty can inspire, too. That’s the case with Neil Armstrong, who literally scaled the heavens with his achievement but then came back down to Earth to settle in small-town Ohio.